I guess this post has been two months in the making. In one of the Professional Development Days this August before school started, our administration described for us how we were to be evaluated this year. As we heard the news, murmurs of disbelief and outrage spread through the teachers in the audience, and I tweeted the following in shock:

What this is about is the new teacher evaluation system that Baltimore City Schools (BCPSS) is implementing this year. It is inspired by the Race To The Top (RTTT) legislation that Maryland signed on to, which requires states receiving RTTT money to link teacher evaluations to student test scores. This is inherently problematic for several reasons that I won’t go into here; however, the specifics of how BCPSS is choosing to apply the RTTT-mandated new teacher evaluations is what makes the process a complete joke.

The new system sets out that a teacher’s evaluation will be calculated as follows:

- 35% from classroom observations
- 15% from meeting employee professional expectations
- 15% from a school performance measure
- 35% from measuring student growth

Now the first half makes sense. For the eight years I’ve been teaching, we’ve always had two observations by assistant principals and/or department heads which play a major part in our evaluation, and we’ve always had a “Professional Responsibilities” domain that factors into our evaluation as well. But let’s unpack the other two bullet points, which are the newer ones.

The “School Performance Measure“: this is where it starts to get troubling. Why should teachers’ evaluations be based on a factor largely beyond their control? The argument from BCPSS is that a teacher does contribute to the overall school learning environment and that this is an incentive for teachers at a poorly-performing school to work together and turn it around and they will all receive better marks in this category. However, if I am one teacher in a school with more than 100 teachers, realistically this is something I have little control over. And if I am teaching in a poor-performing school, my evaluation grade and thus my pay will be docked due to this fact.

Now, you might say that this is reasonable, since a teacher does have some limited influence on a school, even a large school, and 15% of the overall grade is not that high. But then here comes the worst-thought-out piece of the whole thing: the “Student Growth Measure“. Let’s list a few of the problems with it!

- The technique of value-added modeling of student growth being used to rate teachers is flawed.
- There are no details listed on the site about how the student growth measure will actually be calculated (the only examples talk about positive versus negative student growth).
- Because HSA data does not come out until August, teachers of HSA subjects are actually being graded on last year’s results. Now this could work out in two ways, both of which are problematic:
- I am graded based on the students I taught last year, and how the prediction of their scores compared to their actual scores. This is the less problematic of the two, but still leaves you wondering why this should affect
*this year’s* evaluation since it has no relevance to the work I did this year.
- Or, it could mean I am graded based on my current students’ HSA/MSA scores from last year, and how they compared to the value-added prediction. This makes absolutely no sense, since I did not teach those students last year and have no effect on how much they learned then.

- For teachers of non-HSA subjects (e.g. me and at least 3/4 of the teachers in my high school), we are going to be rated based on what they are calling an “all-student measure”. Which is not related at all to the growth of the students I am teaching, but rather to the average for the entire school. Which brings us back to the issues with the school performance measure above and the fact that this is largely beyond my control.

Which is where that 50% number came from in my tweet up there.

How completely insane is that? Teaching is already odd, in that my success depends so much on other people (my students) rather than primarily on me. But for my success (or at least how it is evaluated) to depend not even on my own students but students from across the school whom I have never even met, much less had the chance to positively influence their growth???

Let’s work this out for a teacher at a typical Baltimore City Public School and how this affects her evaluation:

According to the field test results from last year (when it didn’t count yet), the average school in the district scored a 57.18 (out of 100) on their School Performance Measure. Since they did not do a field test of the value-added scores for the “all-student growth measure” for me to share how my school did or a district average, I shall take the fact that the growth measure is reported on a percentile basis to assume a score at the average school of 50 on that piece. Together, these earn the typical teacher at the typical school 26.077 points.

But what if she were not a typical teacher, even though she is at a typical school? Let’s say she is an amazing teacher who inspires her students to do amazing things in her classroom. Because she is at an average school, she still gets that same 26.077 points for the schoolwide ratings (together 50% of her score). However, even if she were to score a perfect 100 each on her classroom observations and professional responsibilities, that would only get her 50 more points, for a total of 76.077, which is below the cutoff of 80 needed for a “Highly Effective” and a pay raise. It is impossible for this great teacher to get a proficient evaluation merely because of the school she is in and the factors mostly outside her control. This is clearly unfair.

Now what if the school is below average on the all-student growth and school performance measures? I’m going to pull a few numbers out of thin air to make this point, but bear with me. Let’s say the school all-student growth measure is 40 (not too far below the median of 50 percentile), and let’s say the school performance index is 40 too. This is quite a bit below the district average of 57.18, so this is indeed a poorly-performing school (at least as measured by HSA tests). Let’s say a teacher scores an 80 out of 100 on his professional responsibilities (for example, he meets all the professional expectations and scores a solid “effective” on every professional skill listed here). And he scores a solid “effective” (3 out of 4, or 75 out of 100) on the classroom observations. Well, 40*.35 + 40*.15 + 80*.15 + 75*.35 = 58.25. This is below the level needed to qualify as an “effective” teacher (60). This teacher would be labeled “developing”, even though he was rated “effective” on all measures within his control, just because he taught at one of the worst schools in the city.

50% of my evaluation being largely beyond my control is a complete travesty of what it means to be “my” “evaluation”. That should be enough right there to stop this evaluation system in its tracks.

Additionally, as these two examples work out, I think it is clear that BCPSS has set up a perverse incentive for teachers. Ideally, there should be incentives to bring the best teachers to the most under-performing schools, so those teachers can improve the lives and the academic achievement of the students who need the most help. Instead, this new evaluation system does the opposite. It incentivizes good and great teachers, whose evaluations and pay are being held back by an under-performing school, to move away from that school. This is morally wrong.

So, seriously, North Ave, what on earth were you thinking with this? You are setting both your teachers and your students up for failure.